Death in the family

Max Haines
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Some women have a talent for getting themselves and their families into all kinds of trouble.
Amelia Palwodzinski would have won an Academy Award if Oscars were given for big trouble.
Amelia lived in Buffalo, which in itself is considered by many to be a distinct disadvantage. Keep in mind our dastardly tale took place in 1950 when Buffalo's current attraction, cross-border shopping, was not the craze it is today. Amelia lived in the weed-infested, paint-peeling section of Buffalo shunned by tourists, but home to many an unfortunate.
On Jan. 8, 1950, Amelia had a fight with her second husband, John.
I don't mean an argument, I mean push, shove and punch. At the height of the battle, Amelia spotted a butcher knife on the kitchen table. Simultaneously, John saw the knife.
Both husband and wife dashed for the weapon. John lost the race. Amelia grabbed the knife and plunged it into John's chest.
The blade pierced his heart and the worries of this troubled world were forever over for dear John.
Calm as a cucumber, Amelia called police and told them her sad tale. Her son by her first marriage, 19-year-old Harley LaMarr, was advised of his mother's plight. Harley was understandably upset, especially when he learned that his mother had pleaded guilty to manslaughter and stood to receive 30 years in prison. Amelia had only one wish and that was to give John a decent burial. Harley looked into his mother's eyes and promised that his stepfather would not receive a pauper's burial, nor would he linger on the surface indefinitely.
Let us leave Amelia for a moment and cross town to the Buffalo of the affluent. Marion Frisbee lived in a pleasant, large home.
Her husband Willard was sales manager of the Queen City Pure Water Co., whose plant we can only assume was not located in the vicinity of the Love Canal.
On Saturday, Feb. 11, 1950, Marion had planned a pleasant night at the Sandy Beach Yacht Club on Grand Island for herself and her family. Unfortunately, Willard had to catch up on some paper work and couldn't attend. Marion was to pick up her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Little at their apartment building located only minutes from her own home. They would then proceed to Kenmore and pick up her sister-in-law, Helen Little.
Marion was looking forward to the evening. She took out her expensive diamond earrings, which matched her diamond-studded watch. Before she finished dressing, she called her mother to tell her she would be there in half an hour. Twenty minutes later, she threw on her Persian lamb coat, shouted a goodbye to Willard and left the house.
Marion's mother proceeded to the lobby of her building to wait for her daughter. A few minutes later, Marion pulled up at a traffic light just outside her apartment building. Mrs. Little turned and used the intercom to tell her husband to come down, Marion had arrived. When she turned from the intercom, her daughter had inexplicably disappeared. Mrs. Little didn't know what to think. Her husband joined her and together they waited in the lobby. Finally, they called Willard. No, Marion had not returned home. They called Helen in Kenmore. No, Marion had not been there. Willard Frisbee filed a missing person's report with the police.
That Sunday morning, the disappearance of Marion Frisbee was big news in the Buffalo area. Before the morning was over, a farmer in Clarence, about 16 km east of Buffalo, came across Marion's body. There was a bullet hole directly in the centre of her forehead. Marion's killer had thrown her fur coat over the body. Her clothing was in disarray, but her diamond earrings and diamond watch had not been removed. Despite her torn dress and coat, Marion had not been sexually attacked. The condition of her clothing and the disturbed frozen earth indicated to police that Marion had put up a fierce struggle for her life.
An autopsy revealed she had been killed with a .32-20 calibre rifle bullet.
A short time after the body was found, a man reported a car matching the description of Marion's vehicle was parked on Buffalo's east side, many miles from the murder scene. Inside the vehicle, detectives discovered a trench coat belt, a flashlight, the victim's purse and an old sawed-off lever action Winchester rifle. It proved to be the murder weapon.
The rifle was considered to be the best lead. Hardware stores in the general area where the car had been found were canvassed. Sure enough, investigators located a store where the clerk recalled selling bullets for a .32-20 Winchester on the day of the murder. The clerk remembered his customer because the man had brought the old rifle to the store in order to purchase the correct size ammunition. He was a six-footer with straight black hair and a dark complexion.
The description of the suspect struck a familiar note with one of the officers. It fit Amelia Palwodzinski's son Harley perfectly.
Poor Amelia - it never rains but it pours. Wasn't she in enough hot water without her only son being a murder suspect?
Detectives called on Harley's humble flat. One questioned him while the other examined his trench coat. The belt was missing.
A bloody shirt was found hanging in a closet. Harley put his head down and confessed to Marion Frisbee's murder.
Harley told police that he had visited his mother in jail and had promised her that he would do anything in his power to help.
Amelia asked only one thing of her son. She wanted him to give her husband, into whose body she had plunged a butcher knife, a decent burial. Harley gave his solemn oath that he would properly plant his stepfather.
Once outside the jail, Harley tried to figure out how he would fulfil his promise, taking into account that he had no money and no means of attaining any. When he came across the old rifle amidst the trash in his flat, the idea of robbery entered his mind.
Harley purchased bullets and travelled to the more affluent section of Buffalo seeking a victim. He spotted Marion Frisbee stopped at the traffic light. Harley pulled out his rifle, which he had kept hidden under his trench coat, and forced his way into her car.
With the rifle pointed at her head, Marion drove to Clarence, where she was ordered to stop. Harley swore all he wanted was money to bury his stepfather. He reached for Marion's purse. That's when she struggled and the gun discharged. Harley threw the body into the ditch, tossed the fur coat over it and drove away.
Detectives were puzzled. If Harley had intended to rob Marion, why hadn't he taken her diamond jewellery? Simple, explained Harley. He only wanted money to pay for a funeral. He had no use for diamonds. Marion's purse had yielded the princely sum of six dollars.
On May 15, 1950, Harley stood trial for murder. The jury didn't believe his accident story. He was found guilty and sentenced to death.
Jan. 11, 1951 was an important day in Harley's life. It was also his last. Amelia, in handcuffs, visited her son on Sing Sing's death row. He told his mother, "Don't worry, Ma." A few hours later, he was executed.
Amelia had problems of her own. A few months earlier she had been found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.
As I said at the outset, Amelia was a woman with big troubles. Her husband and her son were dead. She was incarcerated for 30 years and, in the end, hubby John was sent to a pauper's grave.

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  • K. Gordon
    March 02, 2014 - 13:12

    According to crime reporter, Joe Scholnick, from the Buffalo Evening Post, who was at the crime scene and who attended the trial, Marion Frisbee was in fact , raped before being murdered. It was observed that her underwear was torn away and scattered at the scene. It was also apparent that the gun did not "accidentally" discharge during the struggle. The victim was forced to drive around for over two hours while being terrorized the whole time. This was a horrific crime that is sanitized by this retelling.